iMonk on “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”
My opinion, with personal reflections:
Michael Spencer (iMonk) predicts that evangelicalism will collapse. The imminent demise of evangelicalism has been predicted by the sage, well, pretty much since the Reformation. If the Enlightenment couldn’t quite do it, then surely it would be Industrialism. Scratch that. Okay, then surely Darwinism, or maybe Existentialism. Well, add to that — the Sexual Revolution. Okay, it will surely be the Information Age. Or not. So, now what is needed — well, the Church itself is too stupid to keep going. So, ah ha, evangelicalism will collapse.
I know that doesn’t do justice to Mr. Spencer, who has frequently provided judicious thoughts on the contemporary Church. Nor does it do justice to the seriousness of the “secularization thesis,” namely, that free thought and advanced markets will produce a skeptical society (and, indeed, Denmark does exist). Nonetheless, whether or not evangelicalism will collapse depends too much (and ever has) on the work of the Holy Spirit, making predictions (optimistic or pessimistic) worthless. Add to that, the openness of evangelical Protestantism, its creative energy and adaptability flowing from Free Church principles, further makes predictions seem rather like a binding of God’s electing purposes. But, putting theology aside for the moment, I am especially skeptical of Spencer’s predictions for rather subjective reasons: my group of friends from high school.
Mr. Spencer’s reflections on the Church are, not surprisingly, reflections of his own experiences and those in his acquaintance (and the peculiar sort of people, heavily invested, who read theology blogs). This is not wholly illegitimate, even though I wish he would take a wider survey and root himself in the Church’s history (inclusive of Israel!) when making judgments. So, in the interest of providing a wider survey, here is the evangelical church as I have known it, in my own microcosm:
I went to a small private Christian school from k-12. It was operated by a large independent Baptist church which, though independent, would perfectly fit within conservative Southern Baptist thought and culture. My group of close friends from 8th grade until 12th grade was the same: about eight of us, rather active in school (academics, sports, government, honor societies, etc) and never second-guessed the Christian mission of the school. Now, if you watch movies like Saved! or documentaries like Jesus Camp, you would think that my quintessential evangelical upbringing was rather nutty, at best, or abundantly hypocritical, at worst. If you read blogs like iMonk’s or the Heidelblog (Dr. Clark) or listen to the White Horse Inn, then you probably think that we were shallow and cultic. I myself have even made charges of “intellectual sectarianism.” Whatever legitimate criticisms that must be made, there is one indisputable fact when looking at my group of friends from high school: we confess Christ as Lord and Savior and seek to follow Him. That is no small thing. Among these friends, I have one friend who is now a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya; another friend is a youth pastor in South Carolina; another friend is the senior pastor of a small church he founded on the coast of North Carolina; and another friend is a music leader at a church in South Carolina. And that’s just those who serve in the Church. Another friend is a law student at UNC who does the hard job of integrating his faith and secular work. We are all in our mid-20’s.
Why do I mention these friends. Because they are what I think of when I think of the Church. These are the guys I went to chapel twice a week with, to Bible classes three times a week, to Christian camp every August, to Sunday services, to Wednesday night worship, to Saturday soup kitchens and passing out tracts. This is the Church, imperfect but loved by God. This is the Church that will exist until the parousia. This is the Church for whom Christ is ever High Priest. This is the Church that the gates of hell will not prevail against, even as a latitude in forms (including the “American evangelical”) is unpredictable.